District 211 adds topics of sexual orientation, gender identity to sex ed amid objections

  • Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211 school board members share their thoughts about retaining the state's comprehensive sex education curriculum. The board voted 5-2 in favor of adopting units on sexual orientation and gender identity.

    Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211 school board members share their thoughts about retaining the state's comprehensive sex education curriculum. The board voted 5-2 in favor of adopting units on sexual orientation and gender identity. Courtesy of District 211

 
 
Updated 11/11/2022 6:50 PM

After two hours of contentious public comment, Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211 board members voted 5-2 late Thursday to adopt units on sexual orientation and gender identity as part of the state's recently expanded sex education curriculum.

At the start of the meeting, 33 people spoke clearly against the change, while six spoke in support of it. Another resident called less specifically for reflection and compromise.

 

A number of critics of the change, triggered by last year's approval of Illinois Senate Bill 818, spoke of religious and personal objections. They also noted that District 211's feeder districts -- Palatine Township Elementary District 15 and Schaumburg Township Elementary District 54 -- had opted out of equivalent changes to comprehensive sex education for their grade levels.

But one speaker, who said she'd lived in various places around the world, suggested the districts' opting out of using the curriculum might simply respect the diverse cultural backgrounds of its families.

District 211 Superintendent Lisa Small said that apart from the inability to pick and choose from among the now seven components of the state's comprehensive sex ed curriculum for use, there was a more positive reason to make the change.

"Sexual education is an important part of an educational experience as a high schooler," she said. "We have done this for years, and I recommend we continue to do so with these modifications."

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Contrary to the criticisms, Small insisted the materials used would be age-appropriate and were required to be shared publicly for review.

Furthermore, all parents and guardians can opt their students out of the 10-class freshman and sophomore unit on sex education this April, Small said.

Board members Pete Dombrowski and Mark Cramer voted against the curriculum.

"Of the nearly 250 emails I have received, less than 9% have requested District 211 adopt this material," Dombrowski said. "That is not a silent majority. There is no silence on this issue. Both sides are vocal, and the majority support an opt-out."

He also criticized what he saw as a vagueness in the option for parents to individually opt their students out, while Cramer said the curriculum goes too far in removing parental discretion from sex education.

But other board members defended the additions to the curriculum just as strongly, including Kim Cavill, a former sex education teacher herself.

"These standards recognize the existence of queer people and trans people, and that's why we're witnessing a giant hissy fit," Cavill said. "They don't encourage teenagers to abandon their religion and change their gender."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Board member Tim McGowan also spoke of his belief in the curriculum's value as a father of three.

"Education is armor and it is protection," he said. "While we pretend as parents that children aren't having sex and we pretend that children aren't being exposed to these things, STDs are alarmingly high in that age group right now, teen pregnancy is alarmingly high right now."

Cavill added that any danger to the community comes not from sex education but from what she described as the hysteria on display during the meeting.

"I implore all of us to remember that every day, every moment, we make a choice to treat one another as decent neighbors or mortal enemies," she said. "And making enemies out of one another, sowing distrust and discord with wild lies and accusations and malice, tears at our community bond, and young people are the ones that pay the price."

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